(SAN FRANCISCO) — Researchers at the University South Florida in Tampa have received a $44.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for the Preventing Alzheimer’s with Cognitive Training (PACT) Study. This new grant furthers prior research, published as findings of the ACTIVE Study in 2017, that showed a small amount of cognitive training significantly reduced the risk and incidence of dementia among older adults. The computerized brain training used in the prior study and the new study is found exclusively in the BrainHQ app, made by Posit Science, and is based on the science of brain plasticity – how the brain rewires itself through learning.
The PACT Study is a very large randomized controlled trial, which plans to enroll 7,600 adults, aged 65 and older, to test the effectiveness of BrainHQ computerized brain exercises in reducing the incidence of medical diagnoses of Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) and dementia.
A feasibility stage of the study with over 1,000 participants has been completed, and the new grant, to be overseen by the National Institute on Aging, will be deployed to bring the study to scale, with a completion target date in 2027.
PACT participants will be randomized into two training groups. Each group will be asked to complete a total of 25 hours over the course of up to five months, and then an additional 10 hours after one year and two years.
“This study addresses the central question that most people have about brain training – does training your brain reduce your chances of dementia?” said Dr. Henry Mahncke, CEO of Posit Science, the maker of BrainHQ.
The ACTIVE study provided the possible beginnings of an answer in 2017. Those results grabbed headlines worldwide, since it was the first large randomized controlled trial to show an intervention (of any kind) could be effective in reducing dementia risk and incidence. Researchers reported an up to 48 percent reduction in dementia incidence among people who asked to complete up to 18 hours of training and an overall 29 percent reduction in dementia risk.
A 2020 study in Australia also found a statistically and clinically significant reduction in Alzheimer’s risk from an intervention that combined advice on Alzheimer’s risk reduction with using BrainHQ over an eight-week period, a meeting with a dietician to set up a diet plan, and a meeting with a physiologist to set up a physical exercise plan, when compared to a control group just getting advice on lifestyle risk reduction, brain exercise, diet, and physical exercise.
Some eighteen studies have been published on the impact of using BrainHQ among people with MCI or similar pre-dementia conditions, who are typically considered at elevated risk for Alzheimer’s or other dementias. Results from those studies have included improved performance on standard measures of cognitive abilities, better performance on standard measures of mood, better performance at tasks necessary to maintain independent living, better connectivity in key cortical networks, and improvement in the autonomic nervous system (as measured by heart rate variability).
“It’s gratifying to see the NIH going the distance – building on the established science of brain training to answer the crucial question of dementia prevention,” Dr. Mahncke observed. “Billions have been spent in the thus far unsuccessful search for drugs to prevent MCI and dementia, and so it’s great to see a serious commitment to evaluating the plasticity-based training that has delivered so many promising results in recent studies. It’s impressive that USF is leading this study – they have a strong history of performing large-scale clinical trials required to advance basic science into clinical practice.”
More than 100 published studies of the exercises in BrainHQ have shown benefits, including gains in standard measures of cognition (attention, speed, memory, executive function), in standard measures of quality of life (mood, confidence and control, managing stress, health-related quality of life) and in real world activities (gait, balance, driving, everyday cognition, maintaining independence, healthcare costs). BrainHQ is now offered, without charge, as a benefit by leading national and 5-star Medicare Advantage plans and by hundreds of clinics, libraries, and communities. Consumers can also try BrainHQ for free.